…has brought me back to a place of rhythm, of life itself…
To read the words that lull and sweep,
the sounds that fill my air with breath,
the joy that comes in every space,
the time out in between.
This is poetry.
…has brought me back to a place of rhythm, of life itself…
To read the words that lull and sweep,
the sounds that fill my air with breath,
the joy that comes in every space,
the time out in between.
This is poetry.
The longest part of the day seems to be from making dinner to putting the kids to bed. I am not and probably never will be a morning person. So I can’t say that morning is an “easy” part of the day for me. But after my first mug of tea, I can adjust and start to get going. Yet nothing compares to that end of day which begins at about 4pm.
It’s hard to believe that after my first and second child I went back to “work” at night to teach classes. I would start teaching at 6 or 8pm and not get home until 11 or 12. Yes, one college had a class that started at 9:30 pm! It was one or two nights a week and I had grandparental help. When my first child was almost one, I commuted earlier so I left dinner and my son transitioned to his grandmother putting him to bed. It was nice for both of them, and it was good for me. After my second was about one, I helped with feeding and put the baby in before driving off to a closer job. That was harder because she was more attached, and the work started later: my first class didn’t start until 8pm. Somehow I was able to summon up the energy to go out and function and actually teach students writing!
Now I have four kids. I stopped teaching after my third was born because it seemed like a lot to ask for someone to put three kids in so I could work. I didn’t have to thankfully, but I did want to. I enjoyed getting out and doing something I enjoyed and connecting with other people on a different level.
Now after what seems like and sometimes is two hours of shepherding kids through bedtime routines, I feel like falling over. I think, how did I go out and work after this? Of course, I still have dishes, laundry, and oh– the toys that magically appeared all over the floor that I’m tripping on? I think I’ll leave those for tomorrow. At this point, I am eager to go to bed myself. After all, I too would like a little milk, a good book, and to relax in my pjs. But alas, there are still dishes, laundry and tidying up which typically falls by the wayside, ergo the clutter grows as fast as crabgrass.
I can’t say I’ve been the best at teaching my kids to help and be a “team”. The oldest doesn’t help the youngest; they “forget” to put their toys away; they drop books on the floor after reading them. No, this isn’t the most –shall we say–disciplined household. And that makes it a lot harder. But sometimes I also expect a lot. Is it too much to ask, for example, that the shampoo actually gets washed out of your hair if I’m not helping you? Well, there is that learning curve…running the water over your hair is simply not enough, darling.
But I wonder, is the exhaustion faced by the stay-at-home parent at the end of the child’s day a function of said day or of facing dishes rather than something to look forward to–like eager student faces, some of which are willing to have their eyes and minds opened to the written word? I am doing this at home too…there are loads of books around the house and thankfully my children have adopted the wonderful habit of reading. But being home is different than being out. Being home, you are mother (or father); being out, you are teacher.
Even the kids know that they accept help from their teacher better than they do a parent. After all, kids eventually are embarrassed by their parents and parents don’t know anything. Being home is good all things considered. But it is exhausting: emotionally, physically, mentally. And I wonder how daytime working parents do it: coming home to their kids who need to be fed and put to bed, especially if they are not doing a job they love or even like before they come home. (Speaking of which, my other half often works long days and is usually at work on that last leg of the day!)
Perhaps I am looking for too much. I am not going to start teaching anytime soon. I would need to get help to do it. Someone has to put the children to bed! I started this blog as a way to reconnect to that writing side of myself, but I do push myself to do it. I give and give, and I stopped taking when I stopped doing for myself. Giving is great, but we need to “fill the well” as it is said. I give all day, but I need to give to myself too. If we don’t do things for ourselves, what else is there? How can we teach taking care of self if we don’t take care of ourselves?
I have been reading a book called Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. It addresses OCD and the behaviors that are “locked” into a repeat mode. He discusses medication as an aid toward making changes, but primarily his focus is on four steps that a person can use to “unlock” their brain using a cognitive behavioral approach. I do not have OCD in the classic form of repetitive hand washing or rituals like this. I do, however, think a bit obsessively. I might “perseverate” on a particular thing: should I get the forsythia or arborvitae? should I have hydrangeas or roses? And then when I make a decision (often after many years!): why didn’t I put the hydrangea there??? or The arborvitae was the right choice.
I have realized that not making choices keeps me in paralysis mode. But if I don’t decide, then I haven’t made a mistake. Of course, this is folly. If I don’t decide, I don’t move forward, regardless of whether it is the right or wrong choice, which really you can’t know until afterward if there even is a right or wrong. The point is to decide something.
My last post was titled “To Depress or Anti-Depress; Is that the Question?” I’ve been thinking a lot about the question. I know that depression and behaviors like OCD are genetic. Yet, I think they are also facilitated by learning. If I didn’t have a model that perseverated, or obsessed, or was depressed, perhaps I wouldn’t have “learned” that approach. Let’s forget momentarily that I have siblings who did not develop my tendencies, which would point to nature. Nature is strong, but nurture is vital. And if we lost out on some in childhood, might we nurture ourselves in adulthood?
In this book on “brain lock”, the author shows through studies and brain scans that we can change our behaviors through a cognitive behavioral approach and thus change our actual brain function and that which allows obsession. In simple terms, if you smile you’ll be happier. There is truth to this. At any rate, I know that doing and accomplishing …getting things done… makes me happy. Stagnating and not doing makes me unhappy. But the trick is forcing myself to do things. That is, instead of ignoring the pile of laundry or books on the floor, actually doing something about it. Instead of going to bed as in my favorite “Frog and Toad” story “Tomorrow”, actually doing something today.
I don’t want to simplify depression. It’s not simple, and it comes in different forms. By all accounts, I should be happy. But sometimes, you can’t get up to do stuff. Just like the flu can hold you back, depression can hold you back. But you can fight each of these by good nutrition, rest, and being good to yourself. It can also be fought by changing behaviors that have become poor habits.
To force myself out of my own self-imposed exile, today I did stuff. Not in the house. I went out! What a novel idea. When you are a stay-at-home-mom, it’s easy to get stuck in the stuff you have to do at home. And there is so much to do! My two older children go to camp, and then I have the two younger children. It feels like so much energy to get the first two going, that I tend to hang back with the younger two. But today I signed no. 3 up for a morning sports camp and took my younger one to a toddler gym class, the library (where I met another mom!), and to the park before going back to get no. 3. Okay so no. 3 said he didn’t like it (it seems he liked the class but not being dropped off), but still, he tried something new and so did I! I left my house for the entire morning! This may not sound big, but it is to me. I know this isn’t a big deal to other people, but I tend to stay home a lot. Today I made a change. I did not allow myself to be “trapped” by all the trappings of my house, and let go and went out. This is big for me.
And yes, I did start a low dose of meds, which is not supposed to have kicked in yet. I tried it before and abandoned it because I hate the idea of it. I’m trying it again. It is not the answer; it is not a “cure”. I’m hoping that it will help cut down on the obsessive thinking so I can stop being stuck. But I also know that doing is the main key. Doing and walking away from what holds us back is what ultimately unlocks our poor habits and the behavioral patterns that we don’t want or need. Sure it’s easy to say. And I say it to myself all the time. But I have to do too. Many years ago, I also did cognitive behavioral therapy, and it did work. But just like a diet, you have to keep doing it. Unless I sit down and write, the writing won’t happen. Unless I get up and go, the couch is awfully accommodating.
Yes I can anti-depress with medication. But it levels out. I really believe that the ultimate anti-depressant is the doing. It’s breaking old patterns and making new ones. Lots of bad habits are hard to stop. Some of mine are obsessing over people or choices, negative thinking and self-criticism. These may never go away, but I have to fight those tendencies. Today was one day on a good diet: I took a step away from my piles and toward my freedom. The piles are still there, but I didn’t allow them to keep me home. I have to address the stuff, but I can ‘t allow the stuff to trap me. That is not living.
How about you? How do you get stuck? How do you anti-depress? How do you get down to the business of living?
For as long as I can remember, I have been crabby, generally unhappy, annoyed at everyone, and aimed toward perfection. Hmm.. I think of myself as generally optimistic, but my grumpiness would suggest otherwise. Yet I’m not that way to other people. I was surprised once in a writing class by a fellow student who described me in a profile assignment as happy and confident. Me? Confident. Didn’t know I projected confidence. I certainly don’t feel confident. When I ask my friends if I complain too much or why they’re friends with me since I’m such a pain to put up with as far as I can tell, they suggest otherwise. Okay that’s good.
But here’s the thing: I have always had what I call a “tendency toward depression.” I’m not depressed and mopey. I’m not a sad sack. People don’t think of me as a depressed person. But there is this tendency I have to see the glass as half-empty. There is a constant undercurrent of unhappiness even though I think of myself as happy! Whatever decision I make, there was a better one to be made. If flowers are blooming, I see the ones that need to be dead-headed. If I have a success in the garden, I see the ten failures. My husband tells me I can find the cloud in every silver lining. If only it weren’t true! But that’s also funny. I can be funny too; I can make people laugh. I love that.
I have a friend who wakes up happy, everyday. Really? I didn’t know that was possible. I know people who can let things roll off their backs. I know people who don’t revisit decisions over and over again. I think of myself as normal. But these things are not normal to me. Normal to me is multiple running commentaries in my head. Normal to me is fogginess such that I can’t always really focus on what people are saying. Normal to me is rethinking, redoing, revisiting. Normal to me is not waking up happy and ready to go. Normal to me is a cloud over my head even though I see the sun shining and enjoy the birds singing. Normal to me is also a constant state of thinking up new ideas on anything from how to organize the garden or the house to what to write on this blog.
I know I’m not the only one like this and a lot of this is “normal” to a lot of people. But when is depression not normal?
The problem with depression and the kind that I think I suffer is that it feels “beatable”: if only I did yoga, if only I smiled more, if only I exercised, if only I … that’s part of it too. Thinking it’s self-controllable. The fact is it’s not that easy. It’s kind of like swimming upstream as a salmon. If only I lived on the other side! I am fighting constantly against a current that is going the wrong way, yet I am still chugging along like everyone else. Yet this is “normal” to me.
What I am finding is maybe the constant cloud doesn’t have to be. Maybe the convincing myself “I can do it!” is not so true. If a cut was gushing blood, I wouldn’t say, “oh I’ll just think it away and it will stop!” I’d at least get a bandaid. If I had a headache, I wouldn’t say, “oh it will pass”. I’d take something for it.
Why are we so quick to accept eye color, skin color, brainpower, height as genetic but not depression or any mental suffering? It is so easy to say, “ah yes, I suffer from heart disease; it’s in my family; I will take medication”. It is so easy to say, “oh he gets that athletic ability from his father”; or “she gets her creativity from her mother”; or “look at those curls!: just like his father!” It is not so easy to say: “oh that gloominess? that’s from Aunt Clara!” unless you don’t like that person. Who wants to admit depression? Who wants to admit anything about the mind unless it’s positive, like say a high i.q.? It seems so murky. No blood test, no cat scan, no sonogram. Just a general dis-ease, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction, even amidst an array of blessings!
I would argue that depression is inherited as is eye color. I’m not talking about situational depression; I’m talking about life-long general depression: the kind that results in complaining, grumpiness, unhappiness, irritability, and general frustration. Why is it that one sibling in a family can get up and go and another can not? It’s the same reason as why one has a love of reading (or talent in that) and one has a great arm and enthusiasm for baseball. All children are different, individual and unique. Children grow up to be different, individual, and unique adults as well. And strengths and weaknesses are carried right along. We are so willing to accept a talent for baseball, but not a “tendency toward depression”. It signals something “wrong.” But what if it was less stigmatized? What if it was more acceptable to discuss it and to say, “you know you don’t have to be grumpy all the time; you can do something about that” just like, “you know, you can take something for that headache.”
There’s a saying: a happy mom means a happy family. The converse would be true then. And that’s no good. But if the unhappy mom, who wants to be happy because she knows how blessed she is but no matter how she tries is unhappy, could be helped by medication and not have to struggle alone in the same way that a person with heart disease or even a headache does not have to struggle but can take medication, why is that not “normal”? Why don’t we see that as ok?
A number of years ago, my sister–whom I adore–introduced into our house a seemingly (to her and so many others) innocuous and fun object: the Nintendo DSi. In the middle of a family birthday party for my oldest son where I was preparing or serving or otherwise distracted by food, I realized a little secret party was happening and I had not been invited. Move from kitchen to living room, down two steps to playroom and oh oh oh what do we have here? The innocence. My niece, whom I also adore, was conveniently teaching my son how to use his newly acquired and already unwrapped and unpackaged toy. Joy of joys…but I’m being facetious. My sister knows how I abhor video games, too much tv, movies, electronics, etc etc etc. I was fairly unhappy, and that is an understatement.
I was furious on a number of levels. First, the gift was opened in my absence. Call me crazy, but I want to be part of the gift opening process. Second, my sister knew full well that I limit electronics and that I had no intention of buying electronic devices such as this one for my children. Third, that they were very obviously enjoying this without my knowledge because everyone knew I would not be happy. They opened it without me on purpose; they took it out of its packaging on purpose; no one asked if it was okay on purpose.
Okay. Cool down. No big deal. I’m not going to fight in the middle of his birthday party. Let it go. What’s the harm? My sister, who is older, in her usual they’re kids, let them have fun attitude insisted it was okay for him to have and continued to give me the usual response… everyone else has it, he’ll be behind if he doesn’t have it (behind what?), he needs to be doing things other kids do etc etc etc. But I didn’t care. I don’t care who else has what and why. I don’t keep up with anyone or compete with anyone. I am not saying I’m better; I just don’t make choices based on other people.
I am a bookie. I love books. I don’t have time to read them these days. But we have a lot. I love for my kids to read. I love activity books. I love for my kids to do these types of things: brain work, art work, self-fulfilling work, slow things. Board games. I grew up with board games. It was not perfect. We siblings and cousins fought. Every holiday involved Monopoly and my cousin stealing money from the banker who was conveniently her father and slipped her some 500s. Every holiday me and the younger cousins weren’t allowed to play because we were “babies”. Every holiday the game board ended up thrown in the air over accusations of cheating. My younger brother and younger cousin played an ongoing and endless –continuous over days– card game of War when my brother was in a leg cast and unable to do too much moving. We did other stuff. We played together.
Now? People play alone. People play “together” virtually. What’s the harm?
I’m not trying to be crabby about technology. It has its place. But it should not be a “re”placement for other things, like live interactions, like good old-fashioned game playing that requires cooperation, patience, and eventual fulfillment, or even plain old arguing.
That day when the handheld system came into the house, I had a choice. I could have said no. I could have said I don’t care if you opened it, I don’t care if it’s cool. I don’t like it and I don’t want it in the house. I don’t think it’s a good use of your time. It is all consuming. It will take you away from activities you enjoy. But I didn’t do that. One shoulder angel said do it. The shoulder devil said it’s okay, let it go, he’ll play it and do other things.
Years later the devil is winning hands down.
My son may or may not struggle with ADD. He has some symptoms. And they have become more obvious as he has gotten further along in school. One of the signs is acute focus on things the child really enjoys and an inattention, more than usual, to the things he does not enjoy. So paying attention in school to things that do not hold his interest is a struggle. He plain old doesn’t pay attention. However, he is very bright and easily “bored” because once he learns something, he doesn’t need it repeated. It is possible his brightness has masked the ADD. But I also have always felt that he has not been sufficiently challenged. A child who learns well ahead of other children struggles in a class where learning needs to be on a level playing field.
Guess what? Video games hold a constant challenge. There is always a reward and it’s instant. A child with ADD needs this. Certain personality types need this too. I have three other children and I know that he is different. I didn’t know this until I had the other children and witnessed their development. But I never considered there was anything “wrong”. He didn’t have issues that didn’t seem “normal”.
What’s the harm? I have asked myself since the day that thing came into the house. Here’s the harm: my son, who had an interest in so many things, who was able to have patience with tasks, who was able to do slow activities now has so little patience, is often frustrated, wants only his next chance to play computer games. He seems like an addict. Once when I banned the games for a period of time (one month at most?), he seemed –I kid you not– to get an immediate high at getting his device back. He suddenly was less anxious, more happy, relieved and visibly satisfied. It was as if he was getting his fix, and it was scary.
Since the idea of ADD has come up in recent years, as suggested by his teachers when they use code like “he has trouble attending” (he is now in 4th grade), I can’t help thinking what came first–the proverbial chicken or egg? Sure, he can’t follow directions and is often wandering and a bit like the absent-minded professor, but his poor habits have definitely increased in recent years. Is the ADD more apparent as suggested because he is unable to do more of what is required, or has the constant reward-based system wired him for more instant gratification such that he doesn’t really care to follow along? Is it that he can’t or won’t? Sometimes he has no problem following directions. Sometimes he has no problem not being frustrated or “attending”. But instant rewards are on his radar. Today he played “drums” on pots and pans and was upset when I didn’t “tip” him in the bowl he had set out. He was actually upset that I didn’t give him some monetary reward (not at all common in our home in general) and insisted it meant I didn’t think his playing was good. Tonight he couldn’t fall asleep because he had on his mind the one star he didn’t get in a game he played on the computer… he wanted assurance he would be allowed to play again so that he could get that star!
I don’t watch much tv in general and I especially don’t watch shows like CSI because, although that and others are great shows, they stay with me for days. I’ll keep seeing the murder scene in my head for three nights straight and have trouble falling asleep. So when my son can’t fall asleep and he’s played games that day, I can’t help but think it’s the same problem. Those games are highly visual and he is highly visual. I know they stay with him because he can’t stop talking or thinking about them. We hear about them all day!
Ok so I limit the games. No gaming (usually) during the week; limited gaming on the weekend. But even then, it’s like, can I play now? How about now? But I played outside! (oh, 1/2 hour?? gee!) Does the weekend start on Friday? What about on vacation?
I am thinking of having a summer free of these trappings. I have suggested it and received deer-eyed panic. But seriously, what if there was no “how about now?” because I removed the possibility? What’s the harm?
I used to teach a poetry class at a college in Manhattan. Most of my students were underprivileged and were not used to writing, reading, or really caring about learning. One of the first things I wanted to get across was the idea that not all poets were dead white men. There were poets among us who were of every culture and race and very much alive. The writing spanned all forms and not just metered, rhyming structures.
Another thing I aimed to get across: writing can be fun! Who knew? This was an unfamiliar idea to almost everyone in the class. An early lesson was teaching that they could have fun, that it was okay to experiment, that it was okay to care about what you wrote and have it mean something to you and your life. That was the point of showing them that poets existed now and across all colors and race. That was the point of showing spoken word poetry and poetry in lyrics, of naming poets besides Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson…poets like Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez or Amiri Baraka.
I remember very vividly challenging my students to challenge themselves and allow them to question when they stopped having fun with learning. I asked, “When you were a child, did someone not care about a painting or drawing you made? Did someone say stop laughing or writing because it was foolish? Did someone tease you for what you loved to create? Did you stop creating as a child because you felt it was silly or unimportant?” When I asked these questions, I got looks of recognition and understanding, looks of acknowledgement and perhaps sadness. When did we stop creating? When did we stop having fun? Did something somebody say stop us?
Lately I have been awfully frustrated. I know I’m not getting enough sleep. I know I’m spread thin. I know I’m not really taking care of myself. But the greater problem is I’m not enjoying my children: when they laugh, when they have fun, when they goof off. I failed in the mothering class that teaches children to behave and then have fun. I’m not the type of mother who wants kids seen and not heard. I want them heard; I want them creating; I want them making messes and having fun and laughing. But I also want them to listen when I tell them it’s time for bed, or it’s time to brush your teeth or do your homework or whatever “needs” to be done. I have much work to rein them in because my leash has been too long.
But. But. But. I do not want to be at a point where I am that adult that, from self-frustration, limits children. Parenting is a tremendous challenge. And when we are frustrated, we limit our children. If they laugh, if they are funny, if they are having fun, I want to enjoy that. My daughter was laughing hysterically today and it was funny. But I was so annoyed that she and her brother were being rude at the table that I would not join in on the laughter. And what do they think?: that I’m no fun, that I don’t know how to laugh. And they’re right. I suffer from the same affliction my mother did and I’m repeating some history: she had fun with her friends but not with us. I don’t totally do that; I’m aware of this and how I grew up and try to adjust and I have had some successes. But I still repeat some behaviors; it’s so easy!
Yet I have the lesson of my students and the message I tried to convey. I know that many of them were limited; I was too, so I appreciate what that shutting down is like. By the end of the term, to see how much they learned and how much more they recognized about the faces of poetry and that those faces could be theirs, that was a tremendous reward. It is a reward at home that my children love to read and that they create. It is not a reward that I am frustrated and the thought of limiting them in laughter or joy is painful.
My original point in starting this post was to wonder when did we, if we did, lose that joy to love, to live easily, to create? As we move away from childhood, we take on more responsibilities and we start to care more about what “people” think. Certainly as adults we have stresses that children do not have. But children have stresses too. Children care too; children care about what “people” think. Yet they are joyful and fun and lively and energetic. We can learn something from them in not limiting ourselves to only what we are supposed to do or “think” we’re supposed to do. We can learn from them to splash in puddles, to catch raindrops, to feel the wind on our faces, to get ourselves full of mud and dirt. Sure sometimes we have to get to school or somewhere but not always. When we limit them, we limit ourselves. And when we limit ourselves, we do not live.
The ticker tape runs at the end of the day of all the wrongs I’d love to right. The yelling, the losing patience, the frustration that I just can’t do enough, or spend 100% with any one child. I’ve gotten better with this, but still.
Today I had a great day. I did some volunteer work for my son’s pre-school; planted marigolds my older son bought for me at the spring plant sale; bought geraniums to plant for my husband who enjoys them; bought a new bistro table (on sale!) since the last one rotted away and which the kids loved to sit at; set up the hammock, which the kids also love; took my mom for the afternoon, which she enjoys; chauffeured to karate class; bought rolls at the supermarket for my daughters. I did more. I usually do a whole lot less.
Here’s the other thing I did a little of: laughed with my kids.
I am so serious, so focused on what I have to do, so focused on the misbehaviors of the children or the things I don’t get right that I really don’t enjoy this job all that often anymore. That’s a problem. After all, I chose to be home with my kids. I want to be here with them. But home life is often frustrating and even more often thankless. Everyday. And that is a strain.
So I often feel like a bad mother: for not always wanting to be with them, for yelling, for just not getting things exactly right like a textbook mom. The fact is I’m not a textbook mom. I’m a mom with faults. I’m a person, a fallible person.
But I am also a person who loves. I love to read with my children, to cook for them, to set up that hammock so they can hang out on it. Of course they fight over it, but I was so happy when my oldest came up with a solution to set a timer for each of them so that they could take turns. Yay!
See I can appreciate things. But the thing I appreciate least is my own effort.
I have a new neighbor family and they are incredibly generous and warm people. They are the type of people who, when you are in their presence, make you aware of yourself and make you want to be a better person. The husband today, whom I had just met, said to me in conversation that I am a good mother. He shrugged off my “but I yell a lot” comment and said he sees my devotion to my kids. I thought out loud and to myself how often when I do wrong I immediately feel “oh I’m a bad mother”. But am I neglecting my kids, doing drugs in or out of their presence, abandoning them, ignoring them, not seeing to their basic needs? A resounding no to all of the above. Even people who are doing that–they may not be fit mothers (or fathers), but they are human and have issues that need to be dealt with for their own sake and for the sake of their children. Are they “bad”? No. Perhaps misguided, unaware, needing help. They’re certainly not good for their kids. But that’s a whole other story.
For now, I am going to focus on what it means to be a good mother. It doesn’t mean textbook. It doesn’t mean perfect. It does mean accepting yourself so that you can accept others. It does mean forgiving yourself so you can forgive others.
My small change? Slowing down enough to notice the good things I do and to notice the good things my children do. That is often harder than it sounds, so I’ll have to keep reminding myself. I also have to remind myself to breathe and laugh. Both are essential. This job may be serious, but it also needs to be a joy. Otherwise, what’s the point?
How about you? How can you remind yourself of the good things you do, everyday? Let go of the bad thoughts. Instead, find one joy in each day and carry that with you.
Tonight I attended the Spring Concert at the elementary school. As I craned my neck to search for my son who would be singing (or mouthing) and playing (or blowing anyway) the trumpet, I couldn’t help but notice the iPhone attached to the hand on the person in front of me. I saw a sewing machine. I saw fingers adeptly copying a description and pasting into a Google search bar. Up came the search, nudge to the husband, look at what I found. Maybe her child wasn’t on the stage just yet.
What’s with not being able to sit through a performance, as tedious or chore-some as it might be, and just try to enjoy it? What’s with not being attached to the phone every and any hour of the day? Was it really important in that moment to look for a sewing machine? Was it?
I admit I am not the most plugged in person. I hung up my technology hat long ago to learn nursery rhymes and revisit new words, like car, red, big. I did not have to forfeit everything, but I did forfeit a lot. I wanted to focus on something else. It doesn’t make me better or smarter. In fact, I feel a whole lot dumber. I am not savvy. I am not fashionable. I am not even all that much fun. Okay I’m grumpy. I don’t even care for computers. I took a blogging class to learn what a blog was many years after blogging was a verb!
I may not be the best audience for the latest gadget. But I am a better audience when I’m looking at the kids on a stage and not at that gadget. When you go see a show, the screen is the stage full of kids who have practiced, or not, their songs and who are all dressed up and proud and happy and just having fun. Having been a teacher and up on a kind of stage, I came to realize how much you see of an unaware audience. You see everything. If my son looked out with a big smile and searched for me and I was looking at my phone, well I guess I wouldn’t even notice. But he would.
I am not the most Zen and I am certainly not present in every moment. I definitely don’t focus 100% when one or any or all at once of my children are talking to me. But I try. It’s become much harder to do now that I have four kids and not one. I am much busier than I even try to realize. There is much more laundry, much more food to prepare, much more scheduling, much more everything. And there is also much more out there to distract us, not to mention our children. But we can also make choices.
I choose not to pick up my phone during a movie, or a concert, or anything where years ago my phone would not have even been present. It is so easy to pick up the phone because there is so much to look at and search for and check on. But really. Is it necessary? The sewing machine will be there. Will the cacophony on the stage last beyond that one scheduled hour?
When a counter is clear, it’s not long before it is covered again. A stray paper here, a paper clip there, a toy needing batteries, a toy that got picked up off the floor. And wa-la, a pile has grown. Usually this is what happens in our house. Yet the unusual has been happening. The counters I cleared, one more than another, have stayed cleared. Hmmm.
One–I am on a mission to conquer spaces. This too has happened before. But somehow something has shifted; something is different. The idea is to keep a space clear once it has been cleared. Since there are plenty of other landing places that have yet to be tackled, or cleared, anything that lands gets moved to that spot, or if the offender has a home, gets moved to that home.
Two–I generally don’t like clear spaces. After all, they hold so much opportunity. Look at that clean space! The perfect landing spot! But somehow something has shifted; something is different.
It used to be that clear spaces gave me anxiety. The why I’m sure is a longer story and an awful tangent and one I’m not addressing at this moment. But the point is important. I didn’t like an open space. It didn’t seem comfortable. The counter is supposed to be cluttered. It wants paper and clips and books and lost toy parts. It seems so right. An open space is an invitation to things, as if the things themselves are warmth. The counter is cold on its own.
And this is true. I like stuff. But in recent weeks, I still like stuff, but I’m also liking open space.
The other night, I zoned in on clearing out newspapers that were on the children’s art/work table (that’s how it started and then I cleared that table too), on the coffee table, under the coffee table, in a corner of the kitchen, in a side table. The next day (Mother’s Day!) I continued the project after dinner. There’s more to this story and how it evolved, but the point is I have a clear work table for the children, the coffee table is (with my son’s help!) mostly clear, underneath the coffee table is clear and the side table is clear (except for this week’s paper). And when I look at the coffee table and see the clear space underneath, I am amazed. Amazed that it got done, that I did it; amazed that I like it.
I’m seeing open space and I’m working toward more. I have a long way to go and many things to organize, move, store, donate, make decisions on. It sounds easy, but it hasn’t been. And the appreciation I have of the clear spaces is a surprise. I’ve always liked the idea, but living it is another idea.
A third thing: I’m writing. Hmm, again. It has been a long time since I’ve written consistently. I have heard established writers say that writing is like breathing. Again today, I read an essay by a writer who said that if something is not written down, it does not exist. I am reading finally The History of Love by Nicole Krauss whose main character wants to make sure people know he is exists. He is a writer.
So I am wondering these days. I am wondering at the connection between my apparent new abilities to both stay focused on my mission to clear clutter and to appreciate and not be made anxious by “white space”.
I also read again tonight (in Oprah’s interview with Deepak Chopra in the latest O magazine) Deepak Chopra saying the soul exists in the space between thoughts. (Being still and being conscious and present are on the current month’s subjects for the magazine.) So I am wondering. I will never forget (perhaps because I wrote it down) an experience I had long ago and more than once where, for example, the laundry seemed like so much work. But if I would journal, then wa-la, the laundry was just a task and a tedious thing to do but not so burdensome, not so onerous. I keep this in mind because I know that when I write, more seems possible. Things that are normally burdensome seem less so. I’m wondering if I haven’t been breathing.
Perhaps the white space, instead of an invitation to a pile, has become an invitation to the space between thoughts. Perhaps it is an invitation to be still and conscious and present. Perhaps it is more simply an invitation to do more of what matters and not be burdened but that which does not. Perhaps simply because I am writing, I am less anxious and less in need of the warmth that comes from the clutter because in losing that, I have gained the warmth of breath.
At the beginning of the week, I tried unsuccessfully to plan a day that would include my mother, my mother-in-law and me. It would be easy if we were all spending the same time together. But that wouldn’t be the case. I would need to see my mother, then my mother-in-law, and then make sure there was room for me, a mother.
All I really wanted was to spend the day with my own family, my four kids and my husband. Yet we have mothers who should and need to be honored, so it’s important to see them too, and they live fairly close so there’s no real distance to get in the way. We also each have siblings, most of whom are parents and have their own plans. I tried to plan around everyone and include seeing our mothers. It failed.
My mom didn’t want to go to lunch; my mother-in-law who seemed insulted but I’m not sure made her own plan because I had apparently made a plan. I got frustrated and no longer wanted to see anyone.
Was I being too nice? Was I trying to do too much? Was I trying to control the day for everyone? I don’t know which of these is true or if it’s all the above. What I do know is I spent a week being angry at everyone and feeling that no one was willing to work together. My husband calls it “everyone puts themselves first and you don’t”. I needed to let go. After all, I got what I wanted: I would be going to lunch with my husband and four kids. But something about the way the day got unplanned felt unsettling. I was not happy with the outcome, so it was hard to let go.
Here’s the thing: I have to let go. Everyone makes their own choices for whatever reason they do. I can’t accommodate everyone and make people do what I want, even if I happen to have the best (;0) idea. I can enjoy the sunshine, my kids, my friends, and some favorite mothers who I will think about throughout the day. I can love life, the birds I hear tweeting, the numerous butterflies I see landing and flying and dodging and darting. I can enjoy discoveries like the bird’s nest with new baby birds in the hedge along my front yard. I can appreciate the wonderful cards and gifts my children hand made just for me. I can enjoy the promise of spring and focus on the things that will bloom from the positive choices I make. Including the choice to let go.
Enjoy the day. Enjoy the sunshine. Watch the butterflies. They seek the sweetness in life.